By Howard Fischer
PHOENIX - Fearing a Democratic political tsunami in 2014, Gov. Jan Brewer urged fellow Republicans on Friday to stop targeting their GOP colleagues who supported her Medicaid expansion.
In an open letter, Brewer noted there are intraparty efforts to oust at least some of the nine representatives and five Republican senators who joined with Democrats to approve the measure, a course the governor said is fraught with danger.
"To continue efforts to potentially hurt and intimidate those who stood with me only puts Republicans' chances for electoral success next year back in harm's way," Brewer wrote.
And the governor warned this might mean more than reducing the current GOP majority in the Legislature. She pointed out that every statewide office up for grabs in 2014 is occupied by a Republican.
"Democrats are looking for ways to tip the scales on a statewide level to increase Democrat turnout," she said, and divisive Republican primaries could do just that.
But Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, one of the chief foes of Medicaid expansion, said Brewer is off-base in calling on fellow Republicans to back off. He said no candidate of any party is guaranteed party support in a primary.
"And members who deviate substantially from Republican principles should be especially concerned," Kavanagh said.
"If Republican voters don't think that you represent their views, then you should go," he continued. "And I don't think those people represent Republican views on a major issue."
Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said his boss believes her Medicaid expansion plan is the fiscally prudent thing for the state to do. But whatever their views, Benson said the Republicans who opposed expansion and lost should just get over it.
"There was a full hearing on this issue. There's been a vote; it's been signed into law, and we move forward," Benson said.
Benson said the potential political problem for Republicans is not limited to primary challenges, citing the effort led by two former Republican legislators to force a public vote on the Medicaid expansion at the 2014 election, which he said would trigger a massive turnout of Democrats.
Brewer said party members need to look at the bigger picture.
"Ronald Reagan often used the quote, 'The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor,' " she wrote in her open letter.
"As fellow Republicans, we agree even more than 80 percent of the time," Brewer continued. "We are allies."
Brewer's plea to Republicans comes as the governor's allies on the issue signaled their initial efforts Friday in their anticipated bid to keep the referendum from getting to the ballot.
In a letter to Secretary of State Ken Bennett, attorney Kory Langhofer acknowledged constitutional provisions allow voters to get the last word on most legislation. The notable exception are laws for the "support and maintenance" of state agencies.
Langhofer said while some of the funds would expand Medicaid, some will be used to restore coverage that had previously been canceled due to budget cuts. And Langhofer said Bennett needs to know that.
"He's the chief elections officer in the state," Langhofer said. "If they file their signatures and someone wants to challenge the constitutionality of this, Ken Bennett is going to be a defendant in that lawsuit."
But referendum organizer Frank Antenori said - and Langhofer did not dispute - the letter to Bennett is legally meaningless, as only a court can declare the petition drive illegal. Antenori said the letter, which was purposely made public, is a sign that supporters of expansion are getting desperate.
"They're just hanging on, praying to God that they can find a knucklehead judge that might agree with them," he said.